Serge Ibaka, who was traded away from the Oklahoma City Thunder to accommodate the roster shakeup as a result of the whirlwind Kevin Durant free agency this offseason, had a career game in his return to OKC on Sunday evening.
Ibaka was brought to Orlando to anchor Frank Vogel’s defense and set the defensive tone for a new team with a new coach. On Sunday night, the veteran exploded for a career-high 31 points to go along with nine boards and four first-quarter blocks.
“It was emotional coming back here,” said Ibaka, who spent the first seven years of his career with OKC as an integral part of a perennial contender that featured the deadly duo of KD and Russ Westbrook. “I asked God to keep my physical calm...We just did what coach asked us to do.”
Ibaka didn’t gloat after the victory, but he had to feel good to step back into Chesapeake Energy Arena and break 30 joints for the first time, proving that he is still a young, steadily-improving formidable veteran
Westbrook had his 40th career triple double with 41 points, 12 assists and 16 boards as he continues to rock the highlight reel and engage fantasy fans, but his shot selection at the end of the game, once again led to another OKC loss (119-118) as they fell to 6-4.
While Westbrook’s late game heroics missed the mark, Ibaka flushed the game-winning jumper at the baseline with .4 seconds left, to put the icing on a night of sweet vindication, and further expose a glaring hole in the OKC defense. A hole that used to be filled by Ibaka’s paint presence.
“They have to sure up the defense and try to make some strides,” said NBA TV’s Brent Barry, “…or this (losing close games despite a monster performance by Westbrook) might be what you will see a lot from OKC this year.”
As far as Westbrook’s performance goes, it’s something Ibaka has seen up close a million times. Serge, however, served up some special vengeance sauce, taking his game to a level that no one has ever seen from him. Russ has to give Serge his propers. You know he misses Ibaka's court presence.
Ibaka's scoring is up this season at 14.3 points per game and he is shooting almost 48 percent from trey land. His career average is just 36.1 %. He's still evolving as a player in this new opportunity with Orlando.
How many times did Ibaka even get to take 19 shots and the game winner while playing for OKC?
Without fact checking, I’d say a handful or less. Regardless of what happens in Orlando or in the aftermath of his breakup with Keri Hilson, Ibaka will always have Sunday night.